New regulations for the European Union, designed to enforce efficiency standards on electronic goods, could limit the performance of next-generation graphics cards according to details released on Friday.
An analysis of the European Commission's Eco-Design Requirements Lot 3 document, which deals with personal computers and their monitors, by NordicHardware
has pointed to a worrying possibility: in the name of efficiency, cards sold in Europe will be limited in memory bandwidth compared to their international versions.
Responding to a tip from an unnamed 'high-level employee' at graphics chip maker AMD, NordicHardware analysed the 325-page document and found a section which splits graphics cards into seven efficiency specifications rated from G1 to G7 - roughly analogous to the letter-based energy efficiency rating system for white goods. Under the terms of the Eco-Design Requirements, products must adhere to minimum efficiency standards in order to be sold in the EU. Those products that don't meet these standards can be removed from sale.
Under the EC's rating system, each level is allowed to draw more power than the level below: G1, which aims at 16-bit memory bus devices, is the most stringent standard, while the top G7 rating applies to devices with 192-bit or higher memory buses. In other words: the vast majority of discrete graphics cards will fall into the G7 rating.
According to NordicHardware, the EC's Eco-Design guidelines will make it near-impossible to release a graphics card with more than 320GB/s of available memory bandwidth - equivalent, according to the site's calculations, to a 384-bit memory bus with memory running at 6,667MHz effective or a 512-bit bus with memory running at 5,0001MHz effective.
Those figures might seem out of reach, but next-generation cards from Nvidia and AMD are expected to reach around those levels - the reason for AMD's leaking of the information to the site. It's even claimed that the rules are strict enough to make Cape Verde and Tahiti - Radeon HD 7700 and Radeon HD 7900 devices - disallowed from sales in the EU when the rules come into force.
For companies who compete on high-power - in both meanings of 'power' - graphics products, it's terrible news: it means that the days of dual-GPU boards with ridiculous power draws may be numbered. Even high-end single-GPU models may be affected, and the restrictions don't take into account computing performance - just nebulous 'efficiency' as rated by an estimation algorithm.
The guidelines are expected to come into force towards the end of 2013 or early 2014, after which companies will have the choice of making cut-down versions of its high-end cards for the European market or to simply stop developing inefficient high-performance boards altogether.